Oxford gave the world marmalade and a manner, Cambridge science and a sausage.
In 1874, Mrs. Sarah Jane Cooper at the Angel Hotel in Oxford began selling a particular kind of preserve she called Oxford marmalade (made to her mother's recipe and featuring chunky Seville orange peel in an unusually dark orange jelly) in Frank Cooper's shop on the High Street; it became famous and was sold throughout the empire, travelling as far as the South Pole. Cambridge's primary culinary accomplishment was the invention of a new type of English sausage in which rice instead of breadcrumbs acted as a filler. These kinds of sausages with starchy fillers are no longer particularly popular in England, and now what the Essex Pig Company calls "Cambridge sausage" has nutmeg and ginger in place of the characteristic rice. So, while Oxford marmalade is still celebrated and can be found in shops throughout Britain, Cambridge's most famous contribution to culinary history seems to have fallen into disfavor, and when we travelled to Cambridge yesterday we found little else of gastrononic interest there.
Its beauty, though, is indisputable. We spent the late morning and early afternoon strolling from college to college and through the picturesque "Backs" along the River Cam. An Oxford alum and self-proclaimed river sports expert, Laura insisted that it was not punting season, so we stayed on land and chuckled as the other tourists embarrassed themselves.
We made a quick stop at the fourteenth-century Church of St. Botolphe, the patron saint of farming and travelers, and attended an Evensong service at the King's College Chapel, complete with candles and the famous boys' choir.
This unaccustomed spiritual exercise, on top of all the strolling, had the effect of making us very hungry. Fortunately, our appetites were not made to languish for long, but were restored by a loaf of crusty sourdough bread, a couple of glasses of Valpolicella, and this wilted green salad - an excellent and easy late supper at home.
Warm Spinach Salad with Mushrooms and Red Onion
2 cups baby spinach
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 lb. chestnut or baby bella mushrooms, quartered
1 small red onion, thickly sliced
Toasted pine nuts or walnuts
Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in skillet until hot but not smoking. Add onions and cook until browned and tender but not soft, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Stir until mushrooms are tender, about 3 minutes.
Mix remaining oil, vinegar and garlic in a large bowl. Season with salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper. Add spinach and toss to coat.
Divide spinach between 2 plates and top with mushroom-onion mixture. Sprinkle nuts over the top and serve immediately.